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Best outdoor and travel games for your kids

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Article outline:

  1. Open air kids party game ideas
  2. Autumn games and activities
  3. The teddy bear’s picnic
  4. Collecting and drawing bugs
  5. Simple train game ideas


There are a lot of things to consider when preparing for a kids party. And a lot of the elements will vary a lot depending on the age they’re at. Today I want to share with you some simple instructions to 5 proven outdoor kids party games that can help make for an unforgettable event. Some you probably know already, some might be new to you. Either way I hope they act as a starting point to get your creative juices flowing and help you to come with some great outdoor games and activities for your own kids party.

Catch the snake’s tail

You need: a big group of energetic kids. This one works really well with larger groups. The more people participate, the more fun the results.

How it works: Everyone forms one long column and puts their hands on the shoulders of the person in front. The first player in column is the head of the snake and the last one is the tail. The “head” has to catch the “tail” and the “tail” has to avoid being caught. One important rule is that the column should not be torn apart. If this happens, or if the “tail” is caught, the “head” becomes the new “tail” and the game continues.

Dragon dodgeball

You need: The same big group of energetic kids as the last game + a ball that you’re happy for people to throw at each other (ie. not a baseball/cricket ball!). For a really competitive group, have a stopwatch handy too (most phones have a stopwatch function).

How it works: Split the group into two teams. One team stands in a column (the dragon), each person holding the shoulders of the person in front, the same as the snake in the game above. The second team stands in a loose circle around the first team. The 2nd team has the ball and tries to throw it so that it hits the last person in the dragon (you might want to make it a rule that they should hit below the knee if it seems too rough for your group). The players who make up the dragon are a team, who twist and turn to put themselves between the ball and the player at the end. If the circle successfully hits the person at the back of the dragon, they move to the front of the line. Once everyone has had a turn being at the back of the dragon, swap the teams over.

For young children this is often fun enough even without having a clear winner. If you want to make it more competitive and have a winning team though, simply time how long it takes one side to get the other side all out. Then when they are the dragon, they should try and survive for longer.

Racing Tic Tac Toe

You need: 2 pieces of play chalk and a hard surfaced floor or wall (e.g. a driveway or garage wall) that you’re happy to get drawn on.

How it works: This is a new setting for the well known, classic game of tic tac toe. Draw a 3×3 grid on your playing area. Split the kids into 2 teams one for nought and the other crosses. Now line them up some distance away from the grid (you could even have them around a corner from the play area so they can’t plan their turn in advance). Give each team a piece of chalk. When you say “go”, the first 2 children race to the grid, make their moves, race back to their teams and pass the chalk to the next runner. Once one team has got 3 in a row or the board is full, the game is over.

For a longer lasting (and I think more satisfying) game, make the grid much bigger than 3×3 (eg 12×12). Every time the kids form 3 in a row they should draw a line through it and score 1 point, but keep on playing until the board is full. This variation is also much more likely to end with a winner.

Tug of war

You need: a rope, a bandana, a couple of plastic cones or bottles.

How it works: Another well-known classic open air game. Split all the kids into two teams. Lay out the rope on the floor, tie the bandana to the rope’s mid-point and place the cones or bottles as markers a foot or two either side of the bandana. On your mark, both teams “take the strain” and then “go”, pulling as hard as they can to move the bandana beyond their side’s marker to win.

Mute line

You need: these instructions

How it works: This game can either work as an icebreaker with everybody playing in one big team or it can be a competitive race game with several teams (only works with teams of at least 5 or 6, preferably more).

You give a category which applies to everybody present and they have to stand in a line in the right order. The trick? They have to do it without talking.

Start off with an easy example round. With no talking, they should stand in height order. They’ll probably manage this pretty quickly.

Now it’s time to make it a little harder. Here are some good categories to try:

  • In order of age, youngest to oldest.
  • In order of the date your birthday not including the year (if all the kids are in the same school year, these first two rounds are the same, but if you have different ages present they can provide quite a different challenge).
  • In alphabetical order according to first name / surname / middle name.
  • In order of house number.



Autumn is a beautiful time of year to be getting outdoors and active. Some trees are completely yellow or brown leaved already, others haven’t begun yet. The horse chestnuts are spilling across the pavements and the temperature’s dropped down to “fleecy top” level. Even if you’ve got rain it doesn’t have to mean all-day tv or gaming sessions, here’s a roundup of a few of our favourite autumn themed games and activities:

Pinecone bowling

Extend the benefits of a walk in the park or woods by having the kids collect pine cones for bowling with at home. Don’t collect all the pine cones though (yes, that’s the voice of experience) give them a task to find the ten tallest pine cones that they can.

Once you’re home, set up your pine cone skittles in the garden or even indoors (corridors and hallways can make good “bowling alleys”). Now with the help of a tennis ball and a pad of paper for keeping track of scores, you can run your own pinecone bowling contest. If the pinecones won’t stand up on their own you might want to mark a line behind them and consider cones to be knocked out if they go over the line.

Autumn nature scavenger hunt

Autumn’s a great time for scavenger hunts. There are plenty of interesting natural things to be found specific to this time of year. Chestnuts, horse chestnuts, pinecones and acorns all make good additions to your list. I’d also suggest including the leaves of different types of trees, or for younger children simply different coloured leaves (ie. find one red leaf, one orange leaf, etc.)

Conkers – A British childhood classic

This one needs no explaining for our British readers. For the rest of you, conkers is a game played using horse chestnuts (called conkers in colloquial British English). First, go for a walk with the kids and have them collect some conkers. Again, you might want to suggest that they collect the 10 biggest ones they can find so you don’t end up with bagfuls of the things lying around your home.

At this point many British children will use a variety of their favoured methods to try and make their conkers more resilient and hard. These include but are not limited to baking them in the oven for different amounts of time, leaving them in a vinegar solution and even varnishing them! You might like to do different treatments on several different conkers and see which is most effective. This step’s not essential though.

Now it’s time to make a hole through each of the conkers. You (the adult) should do this, either punching the holes with something sharp like a skewer or drilling it with an electric tool. Once the conkers have holes, string a footlong piece of string through each one and tie it off.

The game itself is played by two players. One holds the end of their piece of string with their conker hanging from it as still as possible. The second player swings their conker at the first one as hard and as accurately as possible. Then the two players switch roles. They take it in turns to strike each other’s conker until one of the conkers breaks and comes off of it’s string. A conker which wins a series of such battles without breaking is considered a prized possession.




Most of the time a simple “go and play outside” is all the motivation our kids need to go and find their own entertainment outdoors. Sometimes though, especially if they’re caught up in a youtube video, it’s not quite enough to get them going and for younger kids, this can be a great time to pull out this timeless classic.

As adults it can be hard for us really appreciate the engagement, excitement and joy that make believe games bring out of our kids. You’ve seen it many times though and maybe even like to join in too. Make believe play is recognised by many pediatricians as a social and emotional developmental milestone, providing (among other things) an opportunity for children to develop empathy by considering what others are experiencing.

Whilst some children might enjoy engaging in this sort of play slightly older, a teddy bear’s picnic is likely to be suitable for kids aged 3-7.

What does this picnic actually involve?

You could instigate a number of different types of teddy bear’s picnic, involving different levels of preparation:

Garden tea

Give your children a basket or two where they’re to collect everything they’ll need to take their dolls, stuffed animals and any other much beloved toys on a special trip out to have a picnic (probably in the garden). As well as the toys themselves they’ll need to find a blanket to sit on and any toy or durable plastic cutlery and dishes.

They could pretend the food, but I like to give each child one or two of those little lunch box packs of sultanas. Once they’re set up outside, these sultanas then become everything from “sandwiches” to “tea”, with the toys inevitably “eating and drinking” everything much too fast and little voices clamouring for extra boxes so that they can have some too.

If your child’s not confident about what to do, demonstrate a couple of ideas eg. asking bear if he wants some tea, putting some sultanas in his cup and then pouring it into his mouth and swiping the sultanas for yourself. Try not to take over though, the key benefit they get out of such games is through exercising their creativity rather than following instructions.

Picnic Time

Very similar to the first option, but prepare some light, actual picnic food and go for lunch in a nearby park, bringing the toys to take part too (of course!).

Picnic Party

This one requires a bit more organisation and several friends. It could be used as a birthday party option or even a fundraiser. Invite a group of other mums and dads with similar aged children to meet in an appropriate park. You could have everyone bring their own food or for a more communal feel have each person bring a dish to contribute. Limit toys to one or two per child, maybe one per person so that mum can bring one too. As well as feeding their toys, children participate in a series of games that involve their toys too (ie. the winner is the toy rather than it’s owner). Games might include a treasure hunt, three legged race with child and toy, pass the parcel, etc.

Rained off?

Even if when everything’s in place for your teddy bear’s picnic the heavens suddenly open and it starts bucketing it down with rain, you can always move your plans indoors. Set up your picnic rug in a room you don’t normally eat in to maintain the novelty factor and let their imaginations take over.

Tell us your own teddy bear’s picnic tips and experiences in the comments below.


Outdoor fun: Collecting and drawing bugs

Collecting bugs in the garden and then drawing them is perfect for really hot summer days, it gets the kids outdoors for a bit, but not too long, then they can come in and sit in the cool of the house while they draw what they’ve found. Really it works well at any time of year though and encourages both exploration and close observation of the world around them, making it a great development exercise as well as being fun to do.

Age range: Great for all ages 3 and up, though younger children will obviously need more help/supervision. Tweens might play less keen, but have them help a younger sibling and you may well find they get really into it too.

Time needed: 20 minutes to an hour depending on ages and engagement

Equipment: For collecting: small plastic boxes either completely see through or at least with see through lids eg. Philadelphia boxes, gloves and possibly a trowel to aid collection.
For drawing: paper, pens or pencils, a magnifying glass.

Collecting phase

children-441895_640Take your collection boxes into the garden. Ask your kids what they think would make bugs feel comfortable and have them prepare their boxes for the bugs eg. put some soil, stones, leaves etc. in the box to get it ready for the bugs.

Now it’s time to find the bugs themselves. Generally speaking they like cooler, darker, damper spots, so turning over logs, lifting up flower pots and looking in the compost bin are all likely options. If you want to add a competitive element you could offer a prize for the person who finds the most different types of bugs. It’s a good idea to put different types in separate boxes to ensure they don’t eat each other!

Drawing phase

Once they’ve collected one or more bugs in their boxes, it’s time to bring out the magnifying glass and inspect them up close. For younger children ask questions about the bugs appearance – “how many legs?”, “what colours?”, “where are the eyes?” and so on, for older children try asking questions that go a little deeper – “why is it that colour?”, “how do you think it avoids being eaten?”.

Now it’s time to draw what they see, looking again through the magnifying glass to inform their drawing.

When they’re done drawing they can finish the project by releasing the bugs back into the garden and emptying the boxes of whatever they put in there to make the bugs feel at home.




My son likes to travel by train. He especially likes sleeper trains. They give him so much more freedom to move around, change his position and even talk to other passengers than he’d have if we were travelling by car or by plane. Of course they usually also take more time. Time which needs to be filled with something.

Sometimes we just give our children a phone or tablet and let them be entertained with games or videos. You may have a set them a daily limit of screen time that they’re not allowed to exceed, after which you need to find something else for them to do. Even if you’re not concerned by the idea of excessive screen time, electronic devices still have their limits. Perhaps the battery runs out (or even worse, it runs out And you forgot the charger), perhaps your child simply gets bored of the games after an hour or two, or you don’t want them using the tablet for a couple of hours before they sleep. On a long journey, you’ll likely need to fill several hours with non-screen related entertainment.

I’ve read quite a lot recently about the idea that children simply need to get bored sometimes. The theory goes that constant entertainment and engagement blocks the time needed to process what’s learned. Also that creativity thrives during that hour on the train when they don’t know what to do next. That might well be true, but in my experience a bored child’s “creative” energy while travelling often goes into whining and making a scene or otherwise pushing the boundaries of the socially acceptable. Things like that can easily ruin the whole trip. It’s always good if we as parents are prepared for this or similar situations.

Here are a few ideas that we can use to have fun with our kids without turning to the gadgets. This is far from being an exhaustive train game list.

UNO, Phase10 and other classic card and board games

You need: the cards or pieces required for your chosen game.

This one’s fairly self explanatory. I don’t need to say much. Classic games like UNO have a place on every one of our long train journeys. Don’t go choosing games with lots of fiddly pieces like Monopoly or Settlers of Catan or games where balance or accuracy are important like Jenga or Operation, the movement of the train will likely make them near impossible. Card games are perfect. In fact, you can often find travel versions of popular board games in card form.

Heads or tails

You need: a coin or two

I can see what you’re thinking.
“Seriously? Heads or tails? My child was born in the 21st century. He’s a smart kid and has the attention span of a goldfish. This isn’t even a game. How can it possibly keep him entertained for any period of time?”

I include it here to make a point. I wouldn’t have thought of it myself either. It’s not the sort of game we usually think of as an appropriate way for our children to pass the time. On our recent train journey though, my son struck up an impromptu friendship with another boy in our carriage and I was amazed to look on as the two of them spent over a quarter of an hour tossing a coin trying to win a contest of “who can throw 5 tails in a row”. Then after playing they even discussed probability and coincidence as related to their game. I felt strangely proud of them and was reminded that fun doesn’t need to be complicated or involve a lot of equipment or preparation.

Make a story

You need: a postcard or any other picture

Picking up where the last idea left off, it’s fun to let your imagination lead you and come up with stories together with your child. It usually helps to have some sort of inspirational starting point, though it’s not always necessary. I like to bring some postcards on long journeys so that we can use the pictures as the inspiration for our stories. “Why is that man doing that?”, “Well, it all started…” and so on. You could potentially use pictures from an advert, on a banknote or (if you feel like cheating on my original premise) using Google image search on your phone.

We also like to add extra rules and constraints to our stories, to make them a little more game like. E.g. we take it in turns to add the next sentence of the story. Or each sentence needs to start with the next letter of the alphabet.

Self-made train game

You need: your imagination and anything you have in your pockets or bags

Sometimes “being prepared” means knowing what to do when you didn’t prepare. At least, that’s what I tell myself. It’s not hard to come up with creative ways to keep a child amused as long as you’re willing to enter into it yourself too. That might mean counting something you see out of the window, or making some new rules for a train game you’ve already played.

I remember one example, when my son was about 3 years old. I used some paper and a pen I had with me to draw an ‘Animal and Food’ matching game. I drew a dozen or so domestic and farmyard animals on some small squares of paper along with something they might eat on some more. The drawings were very simple (I’m not an artist) but part of the fun was actually discussing my drawings. He pulled a card from the first deck with the name of an animal and then one from the food deck. If they matched he’d keep them. If not, we’d laugh at the mixed up combinations and play on.

Get creative. And have fun! Tell us what you came up with in the comments below.

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